When Skal Labissiere committed to the Kentucky Wildcats in 2015, John Calipari and Big Blue Nation thought that the next great big man was secured. Skal would follow in the footsteps of Antony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, and Karl-Anthony Towns as an offensively skilled big man that would be in contention for the number one pick when the 2016 NBA draft rolled around.
Things did not go as planned. Although from time to time Skal showcased the offensive prowess that made him one of the top recruits in his class, he found it difficult to log minutes as the season progressed. At times he looked confused at his position on defense, he did not rebound with intensity, and if he missed shots early, he would check out for the rest of the game.
There is really no way around it, Skal was a bust at Kentucky. But much like he did as a high school player, he has scouts drooling because of his sensational workouts. He is a seven-footer that can drain outside jump shots with consistency and that is a luxury in the NBA.
Here are Skal's stats while he was at UK:
Points per game- 6.6
Rebounds per game- 3.1
Blocks per game- 1.6
Skal did have some shining moments at Kentucky like when he outplayed Ben Simmons in the final game of the regular season against LSU. But he only scored in double-digits 10 times all season and he never once recorded a double-double of any kind.
Here is what the draft projections say about Skal.
NBAdraft.net: #13 to the Phoenix Suns
Strengths: Labissiere possesses a prototypical combination of height (6'11) and length (7'2" wingspan and 9' standing reach) ... Springy athlete that can get off the floor quickly and runs the floor with very good speed and fluidity ... Great second jump, almost always the first off the ground ... Uses his size well to defend the rim ... Doesn't go for head or pump fakes often on smaller players ... Has enough lateral quickness to switch on to a guard in pick and roll defense ... A natural, high level shooter with excellent form. Also has great range on his jump shot. His shooting is what gives him such great intrigue ... Didn't show it often at Kentucky, but proved he could knock down threes consistently at the 2015 Nike Hoop Summit ... Excellent in pick and pop plays ... Some of his post moves (turnaround hook shots with either hand) show promise ... His potential is his real selling point right now ... His performance at the Nike Hoop Summit in which he dominated Thon Maker in practice and excelled throughout the week and in the game sold many scouts on his upside and some even thought he could be the top overall pick ... Has a frame that should allow him to add more bulk without it affecting his speed and athleticism ... Has a great attitude, and by all accounts a smart, high character kid ...
Weaknesses: Never quite lived up to his billing or preseason hype at UK. Whether due to too high of expectations, too much pressure, or just a lack of readiness to perform at the college level, Labissiere's one season at Kentucky was a major disappointment to say the least ... Missing junior year of high school and lack of overall experience seemed to catch up with him in his lone year of college ... Must develop into more of a killer and learn to flip the switch from his nice-guy-off-the-floor personality ... Seemed to lack the intensity and energy to succeed when he entered games ... Doesn't have the muscle or toughness at this point to bang on the interior ... Often gets pushed around and easily moved out of the way by stronger players on both ends of the floor ... Must add strength if he's going to realize his potential in the league ... Had a few games where he seemed to finally put things together, but never was able to sustain it ... Committed fouls way too often when on the court ... Developed slowly as the season progressed ... Relies too much on his athleticism at times ... Must learn better fundamentals and develop a few go to post moves ... Floated through possessions and games ... Too often would get lost on the court ... Didn't do much to stand out when he wasn't involved regularly in the offense ... Doesn't seem to understand how to fully utilize his athleticism, and is hesitant to explode with aggression around the rim ... There are cultural and development factors at play as he came from Haiti (in 2010) and is late at picking up the game and playing in a structured environment at a high level ... Therefore it is misguided to just label him "soft" or a "bust" ... Appears extremely sensitive and didn't react well to the in-your-face motivational coaching style of Coach Calipari ... Seems that he will need to develop a tougher mindset in order to handle trash talking and criticism to succeed ... Still very raw as a player and seems to get down on himself and lose confidence easily ... A player whose NBA success will probably be contingent upon landing in the right "nurturing" situation ... Rebounding should improve as he gains strength and toughness ...
Draftexpress.com: #11 to the Orlando Magic
The intrigue around Labissiere begins with his outstanding physical tools. He stands just a hair under 7-feet tall in shoes, with a 7'2 ½ wingspan and a 9-foot standing reach. His frame is very light at the moment, at just 216 pounds, and hasn't added a great deal weight in the past few years, but looks highly proportioned, with big shoulders and solid legs that should fill out significantly in time with the right strength and conditioning program.
Labissiere moves about as well as you can hope a 7-footer to, being highly fluid and agile with nimble footwork, and the ability to run the floor smoothly and get off his feet quickly and effortlessly. He can make plays above the rim on both ends of the floor, but also covers ground rapidly in the half-court.
That, combined with his very soft hands, makes Labissiere an excellent target for lobs, cuts and as a pick and roll finisher, as he can slither around opponents quickly and finish with purpose around the basket. While he doesn't have the strength, nor the mentality, to emerge as a prolific back to the basket option at the moment, he shows some potential as his frame fills out with his strong footwork and soft touch throwing in jump-hooks with either hand, as well as knocking down smooth turnaround jumpers over both shoulders.
On the downside, Labissiere is still very raw on this end of the floor, as he averaged more fouls per minute than any other player in our Top-100 rankings, which limited his ability to stay on the floor. Labissiere lacks both discipline and awareness, as he bites on pump-fakes way too often, and struggles to read developments off the ball, posting just nine steals in 567 minutes, which is tied for the third lowest rate in our Top-100 on a per-minute basis. While his fundamentals on offense are very strong, he has poor habits on the defensive end, playing on his heels too frequently, being hunched over in his stance, and often just being a step late to make plays rotating over from the weak side.
Labissiere's lack of strength is an issue, but so is his lack of toughness. He is a little bit too nice for his own good at times, as he tends to get pushed around in the post frequently and doesn't always fight back the way you might hope, which will be an issue if he's asked to operate as a small-ball center like big men in today's NBA are increasingly asked to. He's a poor rebounder for that reason, with his 5.5 defensive boards per-40 ranking second worst among all big men projected to be drafted.
NBA.com: #11 to the Orlando Magic
High-risk, high-reward. Labissiere was the second-best prospect at worst at the start of the season, and No. 1 in the eyes of some execs, and had a bad start that caused his draft stock to plummet. His skills are not the issue. "Does he love to play?" one general manager said. "That's the question." An encouraging finish to the season helped, but teams will want to see desire in the individual workouts.
Wrapping it Up:
The questions that surrounded Skal during his time at Kentucky are still relevant as NBA general managers debate on where to take him in the draft. To those that watched him play all season, he has "bust" written all over him. If he couldn't rebound or play consistently against the talent in the SEC, what is he going to go against the elite of the NBA?
But if things click for Skal on the next level, he could be a franchise player. Remember that before he arrived at Kentucky, Skal was not able to play a lot of high school basketball due to injury and the inability to find a home at a school. He was raw, even more so than was anticipated. Whereas John Calipari was able to motivate and get toughness out of Karl-Anthony Towns in the post, he was never able to do that with Labissiere.
Now he has the opportunity to dedicate his time to nothing but basketball. He will have world class weight trainers at his disposal. But will he take advantage of these opportunities?